Friday, December 7, 2012

Shame on you, Michigan Republicans!

Photo courtesy Sam Inglot/Lansing City Pulse
This is one of those stories about which I doubt I can say anything that hasn't already been said. I’d be remiss, however, if I didn't post something about the narrow-minded, under-handed activities going on right now just a few miles from my home by unscrupulous state legislators.

As I write this, 2,500 protesters have come together at the seat of state government in Lansing. Michigan citizens have been pepper-sprayed and locked out of the State Capitol Building. Michigan Government Television (MGTV) abruptly stopped broadcasting legislative proceedings and is now treating its two viewers to a gospel music program.

Why? Because lame-duck GOP legislators have decided to make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state in the nation. And this brazen attempt to shove this offensive change down our throats at the last minute isn't sitting well with a lot of folks.

Democratic lawmakers oppose the proposal but it appears that Republicans have the votes and are determined to make it happen – behind closed doors, if necessary.

Right-to-work laws - which prohibit agreements between labor unions and employers that require union membership and payment of union dues as a condition of employment - are found mostly in southern and western states (although Indiana joined these sorry ranks earlier this year). Simply put, these laws represent one more way in which to give “The Man” more power and kill the labor movement in this country once and for all.

It’s a big surprise that business and management resent the folks who gave employees weekends, eight-hour days, paid vacations, holidays, health coverage and sick leave, retirement benefits, child labor laws and safer working conditions, isn't it?

As a Facebook friend explained, the Michigan proposal “kind of came out of left field, especially since the governor has often repeated his disinterest in taking up the issue.” In August of 2011, Governor Rick Snyder claimed that any attempt to enact right-to-work bills in Michigan would be controversial and he would therefore discourage legislators from placing them on the agenda. But yesterday morning, in classic Republican style, he reversed himself and proclaimed that “Today is the day it’s time to step up and make some decisions. The issue is on the table whether I want it to be there or not."

Snyder also sent a press release to all state employees (using taxpayer funds) yesterday afternoon. The message, entitled “Michigan poised to restore workplace fairness and equality for all workers,” promised the following:

Freedom-to-work laws will improve the lives of countless Michigan families by restoring workplace fairness and equality for all workers. In addition, the laws will attract more new jobs and new career opportunities for Michigan workers.

Never mind the evidence from other states that right-to-work legislation actually lowers wages and limits benefits for union workers. (Check out this Detroit Free Press article entitled, “Economists: Right-to-work states have lower-income residents, poor labor relations.”)

Michigan Radio reported that the House of Representatives passed right-to-work legislation yesterday by a vote of 58 to 52. Later in the evening, the State Senate approved two right-to-work bills of its own, one dealing with public employees and the other with private workers. (See this Detroit Free Press article or this Michigan Information and Research Service video report for more information.) After the Senate votes, opponents who were able to access the gallery shouted, “Shame on you!”

Shame on them indeed.

I intended to close this post with some cynical, pissy comment about the state of politics but I decided instead to post a concise statement that expresses my opinion on this particular issue better than I can. It was released a few days ago by the Michigan League for Public Policy, one of the most respected public policy/advocacy groups in the country:

After a decade of economic hardship, Michigan families need their leaders to pull together to restore good jobs and create even stronger management-union collaboration. Job providers and labor unions have had a long history in Michigan of working together at the negotiating table and forging agreements that are good for all involved. Right to work legislation is an extremely divisive issue and harmful to the positive spirit needed to grow Michigan’s middle class, lift up struggling working households and make Michigan a place of economic opportunity and hope. As we work to rebuild our economy, job providers and workers need stability more than ever. A debate on right to work at this time only serves to be counterproductive to the League’s mission of ensuring economic security for all Michiganians.

True frikkin’dat.

P.S. Did I mention that state politicians are also requiring women to purchase additional insurance in order to obtain abortions (click here) and trying to decrease restrictions on who can own large exotic carnivores like bears and big cats in Michigan (click here)? It sure is a sad time for proponents of sound public policy.

Sources: Huffington Post, Michigan Radio, Michigan League for Public Policy, Michigan Information and Research Service, Potter Park Zoo, Detroit Free Press.


  1. Well said. My response...don't get mad...get even!! Our great grandfathers showed the way when the position of Unions were a lot weaker in Michigan and were ultimately successful: Flint Sit Down...Battle of the Overpass!!! Those days are going to return with a new generation leading the charge!! This is one battle that ironically came on the eve of the bombing of Pearl Harbor! Labor needs to regroup and stay focused for the long haul.

  2. In the union I was previously part of, you could opt out of the union -- but you still had to pay the dues. That makes more sense than being able to opt out of the dues but still reap the benefits. RTW is a simple union-busting tactic, but I believe it can backfire magnificently on its architects, especially if we do an aikido-style move and redirect our energy toward a living wage in Michigan, that will benefit ALL workers regardless of affiliation.